Indebted to classic fantasy novels, a sweet story of good’s triumph over evil for young adult readers.
Jacob Deer is a bookish 18-year-old who only has one plan for the summer before beginning college in the fall: to lounge and spend his days immersed in books. When Mr. Maddock, an aging librarian and father figure to Jacob, reads a newspaper article about startling technological discoveries taking place in Tanki Lowbei, a remote, rural Tibetan town, he immediately suspects that the townspeople are under the influence of the mythical Ancillary, a small blue flower believed to offer limitless knowledge, the ability to harness one’s potential and the capacity to fulfill one’s destiny. The Ancillary is the stuff of ancient legends; most people do not know about it and those that do, like Mr. Maddock, have never seen it with their own eyes. The flower petals are believed to be marked with dots that form a circle-within-a-diamond motif: the very same shape of a birthmark on Jacob’s hand. Much like The Hobbit, the novel follows Jacob’s quest, prompted by Mr. Maddock, as he attempts to find the Ancillary and receive its powers. Episodic in structure, with almost every chapter offering an account of a challenge in which Jacob must apply his wits and commonsense to overcome obstacles, the story picks up the pace only after moving past an off-putting prologue that distracts and discourages the reader from slipping into the adventure. Cohen plays it safe and does not stray from the traditional traits of the fantasy novel; in doing so, what results is a thoughtfully constructed but predictable story. He makes certain to provide Jacob with an evil opponent in Marrow, a new friendly sidekick in Clark and the requisite love interest in the beautiful Sophia. And while the characters are distinctly different and have clear motivations, their personalities lack any real complication or nuance—what you see is what you get. That said, these weaknesses are not fatal; Cohen should be lauded for finding a way to weave myth into the story without making it feel heavy handed and for offering young readers a story that moves along at an engaging clip in a very readable style while underscoring a message about the potential within all of us.
An entertaining page-turner, perfect for a young fantasy fan.